Ejaz Haider provides a nice summary of recent developments in Indian Express:
Social science has recorded, and tried to understand, the incidence of transformative processes, including revolutions; scholars have sought to nuance the idea and differentiate between political and social revolutions. If the current high tide of judicialisation of politics in Pakistan is anything to go by, we might have to add another category to the literature on transformative processes — judicial revolution.
But let’s start with some facts.
After the February 2008 elections, there was an overall demand from all political parties to revisit the Constitution and cleanse it of the toxics put in it by military dictators. A committee was formed with representatives from almost all political parties. The debate was intensive, spanned some nine months and reviewed over 100 clauses of the Constitution. The result: the Eighteenth Amendment.
Abbas Milani in The New Republic:
The last few months have seen a disquieting lull in news of political dissent from Iran. On the surface, at least, Ahmadinejad’s government seems to have outlasted the furor that erupted in the wake of last June’s election. Does this mean that the Green Movement is dead?
Not necessarily. Given the sheer number of people who have been arrested and tortured (political inmates at Iran’s most notorious prison just sent an incredible letter to several grand ayatollahs, detailing sexual, physical, and mental torture), it would be understandable if the Green Movement’s leaders had fallen completely silent. But they have continued to speak out. Mir Hossein Mousavi, for one, has evinced no signs of buckling under to the regime. Ten days ago, he met with other Green Movement leaders and said that while the “path to victory” would be “long and arduous,” he encouraged everyone to persevere. Then, this past Sunday, while meeting with veterans of the Iran-Iraq war, he said that the country’s current rulers were in breach of both the constitution and the tenets of Islam. And he blasted those in the regime who dismiss all critics as lackeys of Zionism.
Meanwhile, Mousavi’s wife, Zahra Rahnavard, has recently become increasingly unabashed in her criticisms of the regime.
The Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg was named for the Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Alexander II, and held its first performance in 1860. It was around this time that Fyodor Dostoevsky was hitting his stride. In 1864, his novel Notes from Underground was published; it is narrated by an unnamed retired civil servant living in St. Petersburg. Dostoevsky had noted the influence of the West on Russian culture: “Why, everything, unquestionably almost everything that we have — of development, science, art, civic-mindedness, humanity, everything, everything comes from there — from that same land of holy wonders!” Dostoevsky was worried that the Russian soul was being displaced by foreign content. His narrator is a spiteful bureaucrat who shares this view and warns that we can’t trust him to tell the truth; he doesn’t even trust himself. Notes from Underground has been called the first existential novel (by Sartre, no less), and it could serve as a guide to the several competitions to build a new Mariinsky Theatre.
more from Don Gillmor at The Walrus here.
But what if we were to venture a different, more literal interpretation of this cultural symptom, which is after all only one of many signs that we are currently witnessing a zombie renaissance? Perhaps the zombie attack on Austen’s novel is telling us that the novel is neither alive nor dead but undead. We are living in a time when what counts as “life” is in significant scientific dispute, and in the heyday of zombie computers and zombie banks, zombie this and zombie that. Why wouldn’t we also be living in a time of zombie literary forms? Whatever their specific emphases and intricacies, all these zombies represent a plague of suspended agency, a sense that the human world is no longer (if it ever was) commanded by individuals making rational decisions. Instead we are witnessing a slow, compulsive, collective movement toward Malthusian self-destruction. Of course all monsters are projections of human fears, but only zombies make this fundamentally social and self-accusatory charge: we the people are the problem we cannot solve. We outnumber ourselves.
more from Mark McGurl at n+1 here.
I think about joining the Seven Sisters
when I make
peanut butter and jelly
Tying shoes I wonder
planet doesn't stop spinning.
Dust bunnies are molecular chambers and
laundry is a colorful list of historical moments.
Standing around with other Moms
they seem content,
to stare at each other as they
discuss what was on television or
survival of children's phases
or avoiding cellulite and crow's feet.
I never saw any of them look up
so I hardly ever
The children rotate around these stars,
manicured and yoga calm.
I once said something about
having only one child, suddenly
this black hole developed
and the conversation formed
As if I was to be avoided or
studied from afar.
Maybe that's all I can give—
one supernova explosion
noted and charted in a
hospital on the outer nexus,
giving birth to a son.
Soon after I was noted
to collapse in on myself,
and the study of me
stoped with a note
of “high risk.”
The question is, was I capable
all along to give new bodies
to the cosmos,
but I waited too long?
I will test my theories and
write grant letters until
by Jen D. Clark
from Astropoetica, 2010
In Mexico, the harsh realities of daily life have elevated unholy saints, who now stand beside traditional icons.
Alma Guillermoprieto in National Geographic:
The inmate known as El Niño, or Little Boy, entered the Center for Enforcement of the Legal Consequences of Crime nine and a half years ago. Tall and gangly, with a goofy, childlike smile, he appears never to have grown up, though the memory of his deeds would make another man's hair go white. Abandoned by his father when he was seven years old and raised by his maternal grandparents, he was 20 when he committed the murder that landed him in this prison in the north of Mexico. His buddy Antonio, neatly dressed, alert, quick moving, and round eyed, was shoved into the same holding cell, charged with kidnapping. “We've been friends since then,” one says, as the other agrees.
When he will leave prison is anyone's guess, but El Niño has reason to feel hopeful: He relies on a protector who, he believes, prevented jail wardens from discovering a couple of strictly forbidden objects in his possession that could have increased his punishment by decades. “The guards didn't see a thing, even though they were right there,” he says. This supernatural being watches over him when his enemies circle around—and she is there, as Antonio says in support of his buddy's faith, after all the friends you thought you had have forgotten your very name, and you're left, as the Mexican saying goes, without even a dog to bark at you. This miracle worker, this guardian of the most defenseless and worst of sinners, is La Santa Muerte, Holy Death.
From The Washington Post:
I had to make a few formal apologies after I read this book. To a dear friend who, on a business trip to New York, rummaged through her carry-on bag and pulled out a 36-inch-long Japanese cucumber. “I brought this along for us just in case,” she said. And to my sainted ex-husband, who some years ago came back from a beach run with a very large, dead fish. “We can have this for dinner,” he said. “I'm sure it died of natural causes.” And to a beloved relative who recently invited everyone over for Thanksgiving dinner. The floor was awash in newspapers, and the dining room table was stacked high with laundry, which we all had to fold before we could get to the business of the turkey. And finally, 200 pages into this amazing book, I remembered my first stepmother, who, in a quandary about what she called a “window treatment,” acquired about 17 couches from thrift shops to possibly go with that “treatment” and then stored them out in the back yard. Being a rebellious teenager at the time, I moved out, but the couches lay there moldering until the lady herself finally sickened and died.
I apologized to all these people, in words and in prayers, as well as to a dozen others I had unwittingly written off as eccentric, or very sloppy, or bad house keepers, or all three. They were (and are) simply compulsive hoarders. It's a medical condition, and it needs to be not just “forgiven” but understood.
Throughout its 5000 year history, debt has always involved institutions – whether Mesopotamian sacred kingship, Mosaic jubilees, Sharia or Canon Law – that place controls on debt's potentially catastrophic social consequences. It is only in the current era that we have begun to see the creation of the first effective planetary administrative system largely in order to protect the interests of creditors.
David Graeber in Eurozine:
What follows is a fragment of a much larger project of research on debt and debt money in human history. The first and overwhelming conclusion of this project is that in studying economic history, we tend to systematically ignore the role of violence, the absolutely central role of war and slavery in creating and shaping the basic institutions of what we now call “the economy”. What's more, origins matter. The violence may be invisible, but it remains inscribed in the very logic of our economic common sense, in the apparently self-evident nature of institutions that simply would never and could never exist outside of the monopoly of violence – but also, the systematic threat of violence – maintained by the contemporary state.
Let me start with the institution of slavery, whose role, I think, is key. In most times and places, slavery is seen as a consequence of war. Sometimes most slaves actually are war captives, sometimes they are not, but almost invariably, war is seen as the foundation and justification of the institution. If you surrender in war, what you surrender is your life; your conqueror has the right to kill you, and often will. If he chooses not to, you literally owe your life to him; a debt conceived as absolute, infinite, irredeemable. He can in principle extract anything he wants, and all debts – obligations – you may owe to others (your friends, family, former political allegiances), or that others owe you, are seen as being absolutely negated. Your debt to your owner is all that now exists.
This sort of logic has at least two very interesting consequences, though they might be said to pull in rather contrary directions.
More here. [Thanks to Kris Kotarski.]
Paul Hockenos in The Boston Review:
The end of the Cold War produced so much ostensible consensus—on democracy, on free-market economics, on liberal values—that one is struck by how little consensus there is, even twenty years later, on how and why the Cold War actually met that abrupt end.
The explanations for communism’s spectacular collapse fall into three basic camps. First, there are the conservatives, such as U.S. Republicans and European Christian Democrats, who champion Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II as communism’s noble slayers. It was their unstinting anti-communism, and Reagan’s full-throttle arms race, that undermined and bankrupted the Soviet bloc. Another camp, which includes historians Tony Judt and Timothy Garton Ash, credits above all the defiant, opposition-minded dissidents who challenged communist regimes in the name of human rights. It was they who initiated the nonviolent movements that swept their jailers onto the dust heap of history. And then there are the Gorbachev fans, who argue that the father of glasnost and perestroika was the prime mover of the transformative events of 1989 and 1990.
With the twentieth anniversary of the peaceful revolutions of 1989 just passed, a deluge of new books attempts to shed light on the forces that ultimately uprooted the East bloc’s dictatorships. While this may appear to Americans as an academic exercise, in Central Europe today, the competing narratives of “how” and “why” and “who” starkly delineate political fronts and still supply powerful election-time fodder.
In The Year That Changed the World, U.S. journalist Michael Meyer offers a somewhat new take on the spark that ignited communism’s implosion. Meyer, Newsweek’s Central Europe correspondent in the late ’80s and early ’90s, was on-the-spot at just about every twist and turn in this remarkable story: in East Berlin when the wall was breached, reporting from Bucharest as Romania’s dictator Nicolae Ceauseşcu was executed, at Prague’s Wenceslas Square when Vaclav Havel delivered his famous 1990 New Year’s address. Meyer’s literary flourishes are eloquent, and his vivid, gripping account of these events, and many others he witnessed first-hand, is a pleasure to read. Meyer has also kept up with the enormous outpouring of scholarship since then and conducted more on his own. This book is not a simple recounting of journalistic glories.
Yet the most novel—and problematic—aspect of Meyer’s book is his thesis that the real heroes of 1989 (Meyer’s “untold story”) were a handful of mild-mannered Hungarian communists.
For a long time people have been trying to define the American woman, mostly for the purpose of mocking, dismissing or putting her in her place. “There is no such thing as ‘the fast girl’ in America,” says one of Henry James’s Englishmen, meaning, of course, that all American girls are fast – and this is more or less the view of an ambitious new Costume Institute exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The show, American Woman: Fashioning National Identity, roams over various fantasies of the emancipated American woman from 1890 to 1940, and there is a current issue of American Vogue on the same theme. The exhibit is pleasingly broken down into seductive, if random-seeming archetypes: the heiress, the Gibson girl, the suffragette, the patriot, the bohemian, the flapper and the screen siren, all exquisitely decked out, all involved in breaking rules, defying the old order. The American woman emerging from this lush panorama of satins, linens and silks, is jaunty, slim-hipped, athletic, informal, independent, and free. Her clothes are the canvas for her modernity, says Andrew Bolton, the show’s curator, who was also responsible for the Met’s 2008 show, Superheroes. And yet, does she really exist?
more from Katie Roiphe at FT here.
A few months ago, the artist Farhad Moshiri received a curious email. “Hello, Mr. Moshiri,” it read. “I wish that you would stop producing art.” A few weeks later, an article in a prominent online arts magazine derided a body of work he showed at the Frieze Art Fair as “toys for the anaesthetized new rich.” The author, a fellow artist and gallerist, declared the assembled pieces — a series of elaborately embroidered birds sparkling in DayGlo colors, titled Fluffy Friends — “an insult to all brave Iranians who have shed their blood for more freedom.” In a final scabrous blow — it was only a few months after the contested presidential elections of 2009 and all the bloodshed that ensued — the author wrote that the artist had “amputated his Iranian heart and replaced it with a cash register.” Moshiri, who lives and works in Tehran, was delighted. “I cherish these letters,” he told me. “They turn out to be like the diplomas people hang. I keep them close.”
more from Negar Azimi at Bidoun here.
Nathalie Sarraute’s novel Les Fruits d’or (1963) was a satire, largely in dialogue, about the reception of a novel, greeted as a masterpiece and then shredded to mereness by the literary judiciary. Irène Némirovsky’s Suite française was written in 1941 and 1942; but the manuscript was not discovered, and published, until 2006. Since then, it has gone through a belittling mill similar to that of Sarraute’s fictional fiction. Hailed at first as a posthumous chef-d’oeuvre inconnu, it was talked down into a sort of documentary which did not – as prim critics so often say – “work” as a novel. It works fine, however, as a reminder of how, in May 1940, sauve qui peut became the French order of the day. Recollected in nothing like tranquillity in the early years of the Occupation, Suite française was composed by an author in increasing danger of deportation to – as her smart erstwhile friends pretended to believe – “work in the East”; in fact, to Auschwitz. While living in suspended animation in rural Issy-l’Évêque, in Saône-et-Loire, Némirovsky had time to recall, with implacable objectivity, the disintegration of Parisian society in flight from the advancing “Boches”. Fearful for her family, she drew with a steady hand a warty profile of the France which had become – in a phrase which Picasso applied to modern art – “a sum of destructions”.
more from Frederic Raphael at the TLS here.
Karl Kirchwey in the New York Times Book Review:
More than almost any other contemporary poet, Derek Walcott might seem to be fulfilling T. S. Eliot’s program for poetry. He has distinguished himself in all of what Eliot described as the “three voices of poetry”: the lyric, the narrative or epic, and the dramatic. Since at least his 1984 book “Midsummer,” Walcott has been publishing what might be described as concatenated lyrics, individual poems numbered consecutively and intended to form a conceptual whole. His long 1990 poem “Omeros” would be called canonical were that word not so problematic these days. And, like Eliot, Walcott is also a playwright. Through his long connection with the Trinidad Theater Workshop, he has amassed an impressive body of dramatic works, both in prose and in that tricky form called verse drama.
But the kinship with Eliot, for Walcott, extends beyond genre. In his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919), Eliot opined that “the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates.” Walcott has deliberately avoided the confessional path pioneered by his early friend and supporter Robert Lowell, choosing instead a post-Romantic voice, closely allied with landscape, in which the particulars of a life are incidental to a larger poetic vision, one in which the self is not the overt subject.
All the more striking, then, is Walcott’s new book, “White Egrets” — for it is both visionary, in the best sense of that word, and intensely personal, even autobiographical. It is an old man’s book, craving one more day of light and warmth; and it is a book of stoic reckoning.
Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:
The Nano, made by Indian car manufacturer Tata, is billed as “the people's car.” We've seen this sort of thing before. The first time was in Europe — Germany to be precise. The car was the Volkswagen, which means, quite literally, “The People's Car.” It was Hitler's idea, more or less. He wanted to build a car for the common man. “A car for the people, an affordable Volkswagen, would bring great joy to the masses and the problems of building such a car must be faced with courage,” he proclaimed at the 1934 Berlin Auto Show. It would be of simple design and able to carry two adults and three children at a speed of 100 kilometers per hour. Hitler asked Dr. Ferdinand Porsche to take up the job and he did. Hitler and Porsche started up a little company called Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH (Society for the Preparation of the German People's Car Co. Ltd.) Thus, Volkswagen was born, and you can still buy one today, though it no longer functions as a cheap and basic car affordable to all.
The VW was the result of mass production techniques from the age of the masses, the early 20th century. Really, it isn't so surprising that the Third Reich would be involved in the development of such a car. The whole idea of the VW was that centralized modes of production could provide the general population with cheap goods. And this was essentially the relationship between industry, the state, and the populace imagined by National Socialism. The people provide their “people-like goodness,” and the state provides for those people, who then provide more people for the state, which then supports the people in being the pure and good people that they are, and so on for 3,000 years at least. Nobody was more committed to the idea of “the people,” properly defined, than the Nazis. In the modern mass society of the 1930s as the Nazi state envisioned it, one of the things “the people” needed to do was to get around (attending, no doubt, mass rallies where they would better learn how to be “the people”). They needed to do so relatively cheaply.
The problem, from a design perspective, was how to make a car for next to nothing.
From Scientific American:
An asteroid circling the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter has for the first time been shown to harbor water ice and organic compounds. Those traits had been associated with comets, which spring from colder, more distant reservoirs in the outer solar system, but not their asteroidal cousins. The finding supports the notion that asteroids could have provided early Earth with water for its oceans as well as some of the prebiotic compounds that allowed life to develop.
Two teams of researchers report complementary observations of the 200-kilometer-wide asteroid, known as 24 Themis, in the April 29 issue of Nature. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) Both analyses are based on spectroscopic observations from the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which show absorption features that indicate the presence of water and unidentified organic compounds. The ice appears to coat the entire asteroid as a thin layer of frost. The evidence for water on 24 Themis had been presented at conferences by the two groups in 2008 and 2009 but is only now appearing in a peer-reviewed journal.